business

NetEase is the latest Chinese tech giant to lay off a big chunk of its staff

Posted by | alibaba, Amazon, Asia, business, China, Didi Chuxing, e-commerce, eCommerce, Gaming, JD.com, layoff, netease, public relations, Southeast Asia, Tencent | No Comments

NetEase, China’s second-biggest online games publisher with a growing ecommerce segment, is laying off a significant number of its employees, adding to a list of Chinese tech giants that have shed staff following the Lunar New Year.

A NetEase employee who was recently let go confirmed with TechCrunch that the company had fired a large number of people spanning multiple departments, including ecommerce, education, agriculture (yes, founder and executive officer Ding Lei has a thing for organic farming) and public relations, although downsizing at Yanxuan, its ecommerce brand that sells private-label goods online and offline, had started before the Lunar New Year holiday.

Multiple Chinese media outlets covered the layoff on Wednesday. According to a report from Caijing Magazine, Yanxuan fired 30-40 percent of its staff; the agricultural brand Weiyang got a 50 percent cut; the education unit downsized from 300 to 200 employees; and 40 percent of NetEase’s public relations staff was gone.

A spokesperson from NetEase evaded TechCrunch’s questions about the layoff but said the company is “indeed undergoing a structural optimization to narrow its focus.” The goal, according to the person, is to “boost innovation and organizational efficiency so NetEase can fully play to its own strengths and adapt to market competition in the longer term.”

NetEase CEO Ding Lei pictured picking Longjing tea leaves in Hangzhou. Photo: NetEase Yanxuan via Weibo

Oddly, ecommerce and education appear to be some of NetEase’s brighter spots. The company singled them out alongside music streaming during its latest earnings call as the three sectors that saw “strong profit growth potential” and “will be the focus of [the company’s] next phase of strategic growth.” The staff cuts, then, may represent an urgency to tighten the purse strings for even NetEase’s rosiest businesses.

The shakeup fits into market speculation about company staff cuts to save costs as China copes with a weakening domestic economy. JD.com, a rival to Alibaba, is firing 10 percent of its senior management to cut costs, Caixin reported last week. Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing plans to let go 15 percent of its staff this year as part of a reorganization to boost internal efficiency, though it’s adding new members to focus on more promising segments.

Alibaba took an unexpected turn, announcing last week that it will continue to hire new talent in 2019. “We are poised to provide more resources to our platforms to help businesses navigate current environment and create more job opportunities overall,” the firm said in a statement.

2018 was a tough year for China’s games companies of all sorts. The industry took a hit after regulators froze all licensing approvals to go through a reshuffle, dragging down stock prices of big players like Tencent and NetEase. These companies continue to feel the chill even after approvals resumed, as the newly minted regulatory body imposes stricter checks on games, slowing down the application process altogether and delaying companies’ plans to monetize lucrative new titles.

That bleak domestic outlook compelled NetEase to take what Ding dubs a “two-legged” approach to game publishing, with one foot set in China and the other extending abroad. Tencent, too, has been finding new channels for its games through regional partners like Sea’s Garena in Southeast Asia.

NetEase started in 1997 and earned its name by making PC games and providing email services in the early years of the Chinese internet. More recently the company has intended to diversify its business by incubating projects across the board. It has so far enjoyed growth in segments like music streaming and ecommerce (which is reportedly swallowing up Amazon China’s import-led service) while stepping back from others such as comics publishing, an asset it is selling to youth-focused video streaming site Bilibili.

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US will reportedly seek criminal case against Huawei for stealing tech secrets

Posted by | business, huawei, Meng Wanzhou, Mobile, mobile device, smartphone, T-Mobile, TC, the wall street journal, Trump administration | No Comments

According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, U.S. federal prosecutors are preparing a criminal indictment against Huawei for stealing trade secrets. The report, which cites sources with knowledge of the indictment, specifically mentions Huawei’s actions surrounding a T-Mobile smartphone testing tool known as “Tappy.” The report notes that the current investigation is far enough along that an indictment may come soon.

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of Tappy. In 2014, T-Mobile sued Huawei for allegedly gaining access to a company lab outside of Seattle and photographing and attempting to steal parts of the robotic smartphone testing device. In May 2017, T-Mobile won $4.8 million against Huawei, only a fraction of the $500 million the U.S. mobile carrier sought. The current federal criminal investigation reportedly arose from that civil suit.

The Chinese phone maker has faced increased scrutiny, escalating to open hostility from U.S. agencies and lawmakers who believe that Huawei poses a security threat due to its close relationship with the Chinese government. The tension escalated considerably last December, when Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S. Meng was charged with fraud for deceptive practices that allowed the Chinese company to avoid U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Huawei, now the world’s number two smartphone maker, trails only Samsung when it comes to mobile device sales, beating Apple for the second slot in late 2018.

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Sprint customers can now use Apple Business Chat to reach an agent

Posted by | Apple, Apple Business Chat, business, Mobile, sprint | No Comments

Sprint today announced it will support Apple’s Business Chat — the new platform that allows businesses and customers to interact over iMessage. According to the carrier, customers can now message a Sprint customer service agent, get info about plans and other services, as well as look up store information in Maps, Safari and with Siri during a chat session.

The support from Sprint comes after two other launches on the platform this week.

TD Ameritrade said it will allow customers to fund their brokerage accounts using Apple Pay on Apple Business Chat. And Gubagoo said it will connect car dealerships with customers through Business Chat for viewing inventory, plus scheduling test drives and service appointments.

Apple has been steadily growing its list of supported Business Chat partners, and today has a number of big brands on its platform, which is still in beta. These include names like 1-800-Contacts, DISH, Overstock.com, Quicken Loans, Kimpton Hotels, West Elm, Burberry, Vodafone, Wells Fargo, Credit Suisse, Jos A. Bank, Men’s Warehouse, The Home Depot, Hilton, Four Seasons, American Express, Harry & David and several others.

The platform also supports integrations with customer service platforms LivePerson, Salesforce, Nuance, Genesys, InTheChat, Zendesk, Quiq, Cisco, Kipsu, Lithium, eGain, [24]7.ai, ContactAtOnce, Dimelo, Brand Embassy, ASAPP, IMImobile and MessengerPeople, according to Apple’s website.

Business Chat was officially introduced at WWDC 2017, and is Apple’s entry into the business messaging and chatbot space.

Before its arrival, customers would generally reach out to businesses through social media sites like Facebook (e.g. Pages and Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram) and Twitter. But Apple’s product gets the businesses even closer to the customer, as their chats can live alongside those from family and friends. Plus, they don’t have to share their data with a third party.

For consumers, reaching a business through iMessage is also a bit easier at times.

A company’s Business Chat profile is highlighted across Apple’s iOS platform in areas like Safari, Maps and Spotlight, and via Siri. This makes it more seamless to move from one Apple app to an iMessage chat, compared with having to seek out the business’s social media profile.

It’s also less painful than having to dial a customer service phone number, in many cases — as Sprint today pointed out.

“More consumers are embracing quick and easy self-service and digital assistance versus calling customer service through an 800 line,” said Rob Roy, Sprint chief digital officer, in a statement about the launch. “Apple Business Chat is an amazing tool for our customers that makes communicating with Sprint fast, easy and stress-free.”

Business Chat has come at a time when the “phone” part of our smartphones is turning into just another “app” — and increasingly, a spammy and bothersome one thanks to spam calls. Apple’s solution makes it easier for customers and businesses to move away from phone lines, while Google is leveraging AI to handle spammers — and even place calls for customers through its Google Duplex technology.

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What happens when hackers steal your SIM? You learn to keep your crypto offline

Posted by | Apps, Bank, blockchain, business, coinbase, cryptography, cybercrime, economy, identity theft, mining, Mobile, social engineering, T-Mobile, TC | No Comments

A year ago I felt a panic that still reverberates in me today. Hackers swapped my T-Mobile SIM card without my approval and methodically shut down access to most of my accounts and began reaching out to my Facebook friends asking to borrow crypto. Their social engineering tactics, to be clear, were laughable but they could have been catastrophic if my friends were less savvy.

Flash forward a year and the same thing happened to me again – my LTE coverage winked out at about 9pm and it appeared that my phone was disconnected from the network. Panicked, I rushed to my computer to try to salvage everything I could before more damage occurred. It was a false alarm but my pulse went up and I broke out in a cold sweat. I had dealt with this once before and didn’t want to deal with it again.

Sadly, I probably will. And you will, too. The SIM card swap hack is still alive and well and points to one and only one solution: keeping your crypto (and almost your entire life) offline.

Trust No Carrier

Stories about massive SIM-based hacks are all over. Most recently a crypto PR rep and investor, Michael Terpin, lost $24 million to hackers who swapped his AT&T SIM. Terpin is suing the carrier for $224 million. This move, which could set a frightening precedent for carriers, accuses AT&T of “fraud and gross negligence.”

From Krebs:

Terpin alleges that on January 7, 2018, someone requested an unauthorized SIM swap on his AT&T account, causing his phone to go dead and sending all incoming texts and phone calls to a device the attackers controlled. Armed with that access, the intruders were able to reset credentials tied to his cryptocurrency accounts and siphon nearly $24 million worth of digital currencies.

While we can wonder in disbelief at a crypto investor who keeps his cash in an online wallet secured by text message, how many other services do we use that depend on emails or text messages, two vectors easily hackable by SIM spoofing attacks? How many of us would be resistant to the techniques that nabbed Terpin?

Another crypto owner, Namek Zu’bi, lost access to his Coinbase account after hackers swapped his SIM, logged into his account, and changed his email while attempting direct debits to his bank account.

“When the hackers took over my account they attempted direct debits into the account. But because I blocked my bank accounts before they could it seems there are bank chargebacks on that account. So Coinbase is essentially telling me sorry you can’t recover your account and we can’t help you but if you do want to use the account you owe $3K in bank chargebacks,” he said.

Now Zu’bi is facing a different issue: Coinbase is accusing him of being $3,000 in arrears and will not give him access to his account because he cannot reply from the hacker’s email.

“I tried to work with coinbase hotline who is supposed to help with this but they were clueless even after I told them that the hackerchanged email address on my original account and then created a new account with my email address. Since then I’ve been waiting for a ‘specialist’ to email me (was supposed to be 4 business days it’s been 8 days) and I’m still locked out of my account because Coinbase support can’t verify me,” he said.

It has been a frustrating ride.

“As an avid supporter and investor in crypto it baffles me how one of the market leaders who just supposedly launched institutional grade custody solutions can barely deal with a basic account take-over fraud,” Zu’bi said.

How do you protect yourself?

I’ve been using Trezor hardware wallets for a while, storing them in safe places outside of my home and maintaining a separate record of the seeds in another location. I have very little crypto but even for a fraction of a few BTC it just makes sense to practice safe storage. Ultimately, if you own crypto you are now your own bank. That you would trust anyone – including a fiat bank – to keep your digital currency safe is deeply delusional. Heck, I barely trust Trezor and they seem like the only solution for safe storage right now.

When I was first hacked I posted recommendations by crypto exchange Kraken. They are still applicable today:

Call your telco and:

  • Set a passcode/PIN on your account

    • Make sure it applies to ALL account changes
    • Make sure it applies to all numbers on the account
    • Ask them what happens if you forget the passcode
      • Ask them what happens if you lose that too
  • Institute a port freeze

  • Institute a SIM lock

  • Add a high-risk flag

  • Close your online web-based management account

  • Block future registration to online management system

  • Hack yo’ self

    • See what information they will leak

    • See what account changes you can make

They also recommend changing your telco email to something wildly inappropriate and using a burner phone or Google Voice number that is completely disconnected from your regular accounts as a sort of blind for your two factor texts and alerts.

Sadly, doing all of these things is quite difficult. Further, carriers don’t make it easy. In May a 27-year-old man named Paul Rosenzweig fell victim to a SIM-swapping hack even though he had SIM lock installed on his account. A rogue T-Mobile employee bypassed the security, resulting in the loss of a unique three character Twitter and Snapchat account.

Ultimately nothing is secure. The bottom line is simple: if you’re in crypto expect to be hacked and expect it to be painful and frustrating. What you do now – setting up real two-factory security, offloading your crypto onto physical hardware, making diligent backups, and protecting your keys – will make things far better for you in the long run. Ultimately, you don’t want to wake up one morning with your phone off and all of your crypto siphoned off into the pocket of a college kid like Joel Ortiz, a hacker who is now facing jail time for “13 counts of identity theft, 13 counts of hacking, and two counts of grand theft.” Sadly, none of the crypto he stole has surfaced after his arrest.

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Elon Musk’s latest SpaceX idea involves a party balloon and bounce house

Posted by | business, Elon Musk, Gadgets, hyperloop, john carmack, New Mexico, Space, spaceflight, SpaceX | No Comments

Elon Musk took to Twitter Sunday night to announce a new recovery method for an upper-stage SpaceX rocket. A balloon — a “giant party balloon” to quote him directly — will ferry part of a rocket to a bounce house. Seriously.

If anyone else proposed this idea they would be ignored, but Elon Musk lately has a way of turning crazy ideas into reality.

It was just in 2012 that SpaceX launched and landed its first rocket, and now the company is doing it with rockets significantly larger. And then early this year SpaceX made a surprise announcement that it would attempt to use a high-speed boat and large net to catch part of a rocket — though it has yet to work.

SpaceX will try to bring rocket upper stage back from orbital velocity using a giant party balloon

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 15, 2018

And then land on a bouncy house

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 16, 2018

This isn’t the first time a balloon has been used to return a rocket. Legendary programmer John Carmack’s rocket company attempted to use a ballute in 2012 to return a rocket body and nose cone. It didn’t work as planned and, according to officials at the time, the rocket made a “hard landing” around the Spaceport America property in New Mexico.

Just like SpaceX’s self-landing rockets and its giant net boat, the goal is to reduce the cost of launching rockets by reusing parts. It’s unclear when this latest plan will be implemented, but chances are SpaceX will at least attempt it in the coming future.

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Elon Musk’s Boring Co. flamethrower ships in time for summer BBQs

Posted by | boring, business, Elon Musk, Flamethrower, Gadgets, hardware, hyperloop, TC, The Boring Company | No Comments

Elon Musk raised a significant chunk of money for his tunnel boring venture, the aptly named Boring Company, via sales of a heavily marked up ‘flamethrower’ with Boring Co. branding. Those pre-sales are all concluded, but now people who put down cash to reserve one are finding out when they can get their flame on.

In an email to pre-order buyers, The Boring Company noted that the technically “not-a-flamethrower” production run should be wrapping up this spring, which means deliveries can be expected at least in time for “summer party” time. That’s good because people definitely need this fire generating device in time for the dry summer months, when forest fire risks are highest.

Another tidbit from the note to buyers: Customers can expect terms and conditions to be signed off ahead of shipments, which should be heading out in the next couple of weeks according to the company. The Boring Co. notes that these will be “rhyming,” and I presume they mean that literally – but they probably also have the serious purpose of making sure Elon’s corporate lawyers can once again enjoy something resembling sleep when these go out to customers.

Based on the shipping schedule of The Boring Company hat, which (full disclosure) I did buy (I did not buy the ‘not flamethrower’ flamethrower), if you ordered these you can probably still expect to wait a few more weeks if not months.

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Huawei, Asus embrace the smartphone notch

Posted by | asus, business, Computer Hardware, Gadgets, huawei, Mobile, Mobile World Congress 2018 | No Comments

 The notch is here to stay. Two upcoming phones are reported to sport the awful, disgusting notch at the top of the screen. Huawei and Asus are following Apple and Essential down the notch hole. Neither of these phones are confirmed or officially announced yet. Both the Huawei and Asus models appeared online ahead of their official unveiling. They sport, among with what I assume are top-tier… Read More

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Apple and Android are destroying the Swiss Watch industry

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, apple store, Apple Watch, business, canalys, computing, Gadgets, smartwatches, Steve Jobs, TC, technology, watches, wearable devices | No Comments

 In Q4 2017 – essentially during the last holiday season – market research firm Canalys found that more people bought Apple watches than Swiss watches. Two million more, to be exact. Brian Heater has more data but this news is quite problematic for the folks eating Coquilles St-Jacques on the slopes of the Jura mountains. The numbers are estimates based on market data but they… Read More

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Mobile delivers high exit multiples despite broader market slowdown

Posted by | business, business incubators, Column, CrunchBase, economy, entrepreneurship, Facebook, Finance, golden gate ventures, Mobile, Private Equity, Spark Capital, Startup company, TC, unicorn, Venture Capital | No Comments

 In the world of mobile apps, numbers come in two sizes: big and bigger. More than one billion people use Facebook’s mobile app every day. But what about the financial side of the mobile business; specifically, venture investment and returns? By looking at the numbers behind two different ends of the startup life cycle, a reasonable understanding of the mobile market today can be had. Read More

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Elon Musk has now sold 15K flamethrowers, earning $7.5M for boring

Posted by | boring, business, economy, Elon Musk, Gadgets, hardware, hyperloop, TC, The Boring Company, Transportation | No Comments

 The Boring Company is getting decently well-capitalized on the back of sales of its flamethrower (yes, flamethrower). The no-doubt overpriced piece of knack, which can be made yourself at home using likely around $30 in parts, is selling for $500 and has already netted Elon Musk’s digging venture $7.5 million. That’s after just over a day of being on sale, and not counting the… Read More

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